On June 29, 2022, the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, the Vatican published an Apostolic Letter from Pope Francis titled Desiderio Desideravi, “on the liturgical formation of the people of God”. This letter is intended for bishops, priests and deacons, consecrated persons and lay faithful.
This letter is quite long: 16 pages without counting the notes. The text enters resolutely into the debate introduced by the motu proprio Traditional custodiansto which reference is made by name in the first section, but with the aim of closing it by definitively marginalizing the traditional mass.
It is in fact a long plea for the Reformed rite, doing so in a long and indirect way by proposing an analysis of the liturgy as a “place of encounter with Christ”. It involves a daily rediscovery of “the beauty of the truth of Christian celebration.”
This involves “wonder before the paschal mystery”, which is described as the essential element of the liturgical act. This requires the appropriation of the symbols of the liturgy, an arduous task today, according to Francis, due to a generalized loss of the very meaning of the symbols.
In section 31, the pope poses a dilemma to Ecclesia Dei societies by stating that he “does not see how it is possible to say that one recognizes the validity of the Council. . . and at the same time not accepting the liturgical reform”. He affirms in the same number that “the problematic is first of all ecclesiological”, because the new rite is the expression of the new ecclesiology of the Council.
This point can be easily conceded, but it is precisely the crux of the matter. The pope affirms again – always in the same section – that he “is surprised that a Catholic can presume not to do so”, that is to say not to recognize the validity of the Council.
If it is a question of saying that the Second Vatican Council was legitimately convened, there is no difficulty, but if it is a question of admitting, as Pope Paul VI claimed in a letter addressed to Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre on June 29, 1975, that this Council “has no less authority, which in certain respects is even greater than that of Nicaea”, is impossible.
How can a “pastoral” council, which refused all infallible teaching and taught novelties incompatible with Tradition, make such a claim? That’s the whole question.
An acknowledgment of failure
Francis’ text goes on to “give some advice” on the art of celebrating, which requires a renewed and in-depth formation in the liturgy in order to give full brilliance to the Reformed rite. And the Pope asks all leaders to help in this education “of the holy people of God” so that they draw from the “first source of Christian spirituality”.
It is not the first time that they have drawn water from the same well: the question of liturgical formation has occupied center stage in the liturgical movement for decades. To what result? An increased desertification of “Sunday assemblies” and an ever deeper misunderstanding of the very essence of the liturgy. Not to mention the incessant deviations.
This letter sounds like an acknowledgment of failure which must seem all the more bitter as the traditional Mass occupies more and more space and has become unavoidable, which exasperates the reigning Pope, as he launched in the homily of the Mass of June 29: “let us not fall into the temptation to ‘look back’, which is becoming fashionable today in the Church”.
A fundamental mistake
What is most notable in Francis’ text is the attachment to the equivocal principles of the Council, especially with regard to active participation. It must be understood that “active participation” for a faithful means uniting with Christ who celebrates through the action of the priest, whatever he does: whether he serves Mass, sings or reads certain texts – in the rite reform. It is necessary to go through a small explanation on the notion of power.
We must distinguish active power, that which can achieve a result by itself: muscular, voluntary, artistic power, etc. And passive power, which consists in first receiving something: the object lifted by the muscles, the limbs moved by the will, or the statue sculpted by the artist.
It is true, as the Pope says in his text, that the faithful have an activity, but this activity is passive in the preceding sense: it is Christ who celebrates through the priest who unites the faithful to Christ by his action coming of the power he holds alone. Ten thousand faithful without a priest are nothing in the liturgical order – except in the case of marriage. But only one famous priest with the whole Church.
The new ecclesiology, especially in the most advanced form that Francis promotes, synodality, wants to disperse the sacred power of the priesthood – and by this is meant the power of the Church – and distribute it between the clergy and the faithful. And by sacred power, we mean both the power of order and the power of jurisdiction.
Now, it is by divine right that only he who has received a participation in the priesthood of Christ through the sacrament of Holy Orders can exercise one or the other power. This is why both synodality and the reformed rite can only lead to failure. Usquequo Domine? “Until when, Lord?”